SUMMER BOXSETS: Mama’s Angel

Walter Presents’ Israeli crime drama is under the spotlight.

What’s the story?

It’s present-day Israel, a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv, and it’s just before the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Prison therapist Yael Tamir (Sharon Stark) is having a stressful day, coping with the ex-military husband Eithan (Yehezkel Lazarov) who spends most of his time playing video games, and their two children. Ethiopian nursery worker Nigist Emanuel (Tehilla Yashayauh) is under stress too; her 18-year-old son Rafa (Yoni Meles) is about to head to Europe, skipping his compulsory military service. The two go to synagogue, but get a cool reception; he sneaks off to meet a girl.

So far, so ordinary; apart from the setting, this could be any contemporary social drama.

But everything changes when Yael’s son Kfir is found dead, half-hidden under a monument to Air Force heroes. Eithan caught Rafa vandalizing it some days earlier; so he was on the scene, but is that significant? Or is there a connection to Yael’s latest patient, who killed his own children?

Cop Benny Mandelovitz (Eyal Rozales) reckons he’s got his man, but CSI expert Naama Sadeh (Vered Feldman) finds forensic evidence suggesting a fit-up. Another suspect is mentally challenged Amnon (Tom Hagi), who was missing on the night of the murder; is his mother covering for him?

As the investigation progresses, the lines between public and private life become blurred, as Yael feels the burden of motherhood as well as pressure to crack the case.

What’s good about it?

Certainly, Mama’s Angel benefits from its unusual setting; you may never have watched a series set in Israel before, though many popular shows such as Homeland, Hostages and The A Word are based on Israeli originals. There are strong performances, and if you like a slow-burn series, there’s plenty of establishing detail before the crime even takes place.

Creator Keren Weissman says that she wanted to focus on motherhood and its burdens; both the mother of the victim and the mother of the accused are seen to suffer unbearably, a balance which is rarely achieved in crime drama. The inspiration for the series came from letters Weissman read in the New York Times regarding the notorious case of the West Memphis Three, teenagers who were tried and convicted of the murder of three boys in 1994, but who were eventually released in 2010, having served almost 20 years. Weissman decided she wanted to write about society’s scapegoats – in this case, choosing the Ethiopian community as the targets of suspicion in Israel.

What’s bad about it?

As creator Keren Weissman has been quoted as saying, “There’s something about Israel that you can’t be non-political. Everything [is political], even when [and where] you send your child to playschool.” What makes Mama’s Angel a difficult watch at times is that it is layered in political and religious symbolism, to the extent that one wonders whether it is possible to follow the implications of the plot without a sound understanding of the cultural background.

On a more prosaic level, some of the characters of Mama’s Angel seems to have little regard for sensible procedure; the cops act as if they don’t have a clue, Yael ends up working on the case of the murder of her own child, and the first thing she does when questioning a suspect is light up a cigarette, then tell him he doesn’t have to talk to her, and she needn’t come back. It’s very odd, as if there were no police consultants involved in the whole process, or any intention to reflect real procedures.

Plus – our favourite current bugbear – the characters are often required to explain things to each other for the benefit of the audience – the old ‘I’m just a cop, not a doctor like you’ syndrome. If it’s that unclear who everyone is, perhaps there’s something wrong with the plot.

Finally, the lethargic pace and the extended length of ten episodes may get to you, and you might feel tempted to skip to the end. But it’s not giving much away to reveal that not everything is explained, and you may find yourself frustratingly denied pat answers.

Why it’s worth a binge

Mama’s Angel is certainly boldly different in setting and tone from anything you are likely to have seen before, though in its exploration of grief and guilt it does bear comparison with Broadchurch and Unforgotten. Give it a go for a change of pace (and weather) from Scandi dramas; people may still be miserable in Tel Aviv, but at least it isn’t raining all the time.

Chris Jenkins

Mama’s Angel is available now on All 4

READ OUR OTHER SUMMER BOXSET REVIEWS:

BOSCH (SERIES 4)

THE ALIENIST

BABYLON BERLIN (SERIES 2)

LA FORET

SACRED GAMES

MR MERCEDES (SERIES 1)

SAFE

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Elizabeth Macpherson says:

    I’ve watched 3 episodes so far. I will watch the remainder. Do the Israeli police really have such disregard to procedures, or is this normal?

    Like

  2. Gadi says:

    I am an Israeli, and no – it’s not representing Israeli police normal handling of things, but it happens now and then, like everywhere else…
    Re the series – be warned: it have one of the most frustrating endings you will ever encounter in TV series – one that causes people to pull their hair off…

    Like

  3. C.CONLON says:

    no ending.have got used to ridiculously stupid endings,but this takes the bicuit.NO ENDING. jUST TOLD he DID NOT DO IT.

    Like

  4. Terry I. says:

    The killer is shown in shadow

    Like

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